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Cal Football

10 of the Greatest Running Back Seasons in Cal Football History

February 7, 2023
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In recent decades, the Bears have had no shortage of premier running backs. Today we'll take a look at ten of the top statistical seasons in Cal football history.

It took almost three decades for Cal to produce a 1,000-yard running back after Cal Hall of Famer Jackie Jensen’s 1948 season put him squarely in Heisman contention when Cal Hall of Fame

Jackie Jensen

running back Chuck Muncie had his monster season in 1975. Since then, there have only been 16 1,000-yard rushers and just two in the last decade, with Daniel Lasco’s 1,115 yards and (5.3 ypc) and 12 TDs plus 33 receptions for 346 yards and an additional 2 TD in 2015 and former walk-on Patrick Laird’s 1,127 yards (5.9 ypc) and 8 TDs and 45 catches for 322 yards and another TD in 2017 after taking over for an injured Tre Watson.

Since there is no cumulative running back rating, the Top 10 will be somewhat subjective but we’ll lean on a combination of statistical significance along with importance to team success.

10 - Lindsey Chapman - 1993 - Chapman followed up his impressive frosh season in ‘91, teaming with backfield mate Russell White, adding 675 yards and 6 TDs with his strongest season in ‘93. Though his ‘93 rushing total was exceeded by a few other running backs, Chapman got the nod for helping lead the Bears to a 9-4 record and big 37-3 Alamo Bowl win over Iowa and for his stellar 17 overall TDs, totaling 1,037 yards and 5 ypc with 14 TDs on the ground and 18 catches for 194 yards and 3 more TDs through the air.
9 - Adimchinobi Echemandu - 2003 - As a prep, the powerful RB, who was known then as Joe Echema, combined a compact, powerful 5-10/225 frame with amazing sprinter speed with impressive track times of 21.35 in the 200 meters, 10.40 in the 100 meters, and 47.55 in the 400. After coming back from an injury during his early time at Cal where he was yet to his stride, the RB came back with a fresh start, going by his longer legal name and putting together by far his best season at Cal in 2003, rushing for 1,195 yards at 5 ypc, adding 13 TDs along with 22 receptions for

Shane Vereen

185 yards, helping the Bears to their first bowl game in 8 seasons in their exciting 52-49 win over Virginia Tech in the Insight Bowl. 

8 - Shane Vereen - 2010 - After redshirting his frosh season in 2007, Vereen put together arguably his best season as a redshirt frosh in 2008, rushing for 1,077 yards at an impressive 7.6 ypc average and 4 TDs on the ground and another TD reception through the air but the speedy frosh junior year gets the nod as his top season. Though his ypc were lower at a solid 5.1 ypc, Vereen totaled 1,167 yards and 14 TDs on the ground along with 22 catches for 209 yards and 3 more TD receptions before turning pro and being drafted in the 2nd round by the New England Patriots in the 2011 NFL draft.
7 - Isi Sofele - 2011 - A beneficiary of Vereen’s early departure to the NFL, the diminutive and shifty back from Utah led the Bears with one of the best single-season rushing totals in Cal history, rushing for 1,322 yards on 252 carries (5.2 ypc) to give the Bears their ninth season with a 1,000-yard rusher in 10 seasons and the highest total since Jahvid Best in 2008. Sofele helped lead the Bears to a Holiday Bowl appearance vs. Texas and a 7-6 overall record in Tedford’s second-to-last season at Cal.
6 - Russell White - 1991 - One of the most highly-touted recruits in Cal history, the RB from Encino’s Crespi High School burst onto the collegiate scene immediately with a TD return vs national power Miami the first time he touched a ball at Memorial Stadium for Cal. He followed up his successful frosh season where he rushed for 1,000 yards and 13 overall TDs with an even stronger soph season for the 10-2 Citrus Bowl champion Bears, going for 1,177 yards and 14 TDs along with 14 receptions 

Russell White

for 139 yards and 2 more TDs. After another strong season in ‘92, White was drafted in the 3rd round by the LA Rams. 30 years after his Cal career, White still remains the Bears’ all-time leading rusher with 3,367 yards.
5 - Justin Forsett - 2007 - A lightly-regarded 2 star recruit, the 5-8/185 running back just kept proving people wrong throughout his Cal career. After backing up Lynch in 2005 with a 999 yard season as a soph, his senior season put the powerful, diminutive back squarely in the limelight in the Bears’ backfield, Forsett put together the second-highest single-season rushing total in Cal history with 1,546 yards and 15 TDs along with 22 catches for 202 yards in the Bears’ 7-5 Armed Forces Bowl-winning season before going on to a successful 9-year NFL career. Despite coming to Cal with a late offer after being dropped by Notre Dame, Forsett still sits at third in Cal’s all-time rushing chart with 3,220 yards, just 10 yards behind his more famous 3-year backfield mate, Lynch.
4 - Marshawn Lynch - 2006 - After picking up 628 yards and 8 TDs in just 71 carries backing up Arrington in his record-breaking season in 2004 as a frosh and 1,246 yards and 10 TDs as a soph, Lynch had his best season in his last one as a Bear in Cal’s 10-3 Holiday Bowl-winning season, adding 1,356 yards at 6.1 ypc with 11 TDs on the ground and 34 catches for 328 yards and 4 more

Marshawn Lynch

TDs. Beast mode went from a hometown hero from Oakland Tech to a 1st round draft pick following his junior season, rushing for over 10,000 yards and 85 TDs over his 9-year career.
3 - Jahvid Best - 2008 - As a soph, Jahvid the Jet put together an electric season for the 9-4 Bears - the last time the Bears managed to win at least 9 games - gaining 1,580 yards at 8.1 ypc and 15 TDs and adding 27 catches for 246 yards and 1 more TD, flashing the type of speed and game-breaking moves that could instantly change any game at any time. The speedy back’s best game as a Bear occurred in the Bears’ 2008 win over Washington, where he ran for a Cal-record 311 yards before being pulled early. Best, who won state as a prep with a 10.31 wind-aided time, turned pro after his 2009 junior season.
2 - Chuck Muncie - 1975 - The 6-3/225 power back was a groundbreaking piece of Cal’s ‘75 Pac-8 championship shared with UCLA, combining a never before seen combination of power, speed and athleticism, all wrapped into one complicated, sometimes terrifying to defenses body. The big back from Uniontown, PA put together an incredible senior season, adding 1,460 yards at a 6.4 ypc clip adding 13 TDs on the ground and 2 through the air, with 39 catches for 392 yards. Many feel Muncie was robbed of the Heisman Trophy, finishing 2nd behind Archie Griffin, who had inferior stats to to the big Bear back.
1 - JJ Arrington - 2004 - Despite playing in an epically-stacked backfield featuring likely future Hall of Famers Aaron Rodgers and Marshawn Lynch as the second half of a potent 1-2 running back

JJ Arrington

punch, senior running back JJ Arrington put together a season for the ages, using his outstanding burst through available holes to rush for an amazing 2,018 yards (7 ypc) and 15 TDs along with 21 catches for 121 yards in Cal’s outstanding 10-2 season, narrowly missing their first Rose Bowl in 45 years. Lynch ran for an additional 628 yards at an 8.8 ypc clip with 8 TDs in a solid rookie season, too.

Honorable Mention:

Jackie Jensen: The Golden Boy was a 2-sport start at Cal earning All-American status in both football and baseball. As a pitcher and outfielder,  Jensen led Cal to victory in the inaugural College World Series in 1947 over George HW Bush’s Yale team. At running back, Jensen was a consensus All-American as a junior in 1948, becoming the first Cal player to rush for 1,000 yards, leading the Bears to a 10-0 regular season under Pappy Waldorf before falling in a close upset to Northwestern in the Rose Bowl. No full season stats are available.

Vic Bottari:  The Cal and NCAA Hall of Fame RB was voted the most valuable player of the Rose Bowl in Cal’s last Rose Bowl victory in 1938. He scored both of the Bears' touchdowns and rushed for 137 yards on 34 carries in their 13-0 win over Alabama in their victory. In his three years with Cal, he gained 1,536 yards on 388 carries and also scored 22 touchdowns and kicked 13 PATs. No complete season stats are available.

Related:

The 10 Greatest Statistical QB Seasons in Cal Football History

Discussion from...

10 of the Greatest Running Back Seasons in Cal Football History

9,291 Views | 12 Replies | Last: 1 yr ago by HearstMining
eastcoastcal
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I hope everyone on this list gets shifted down a spot after a certain RB does his thing next season!!
cal93
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The fact that Arrington led the nation is rushing yards is amazing. What awful and shows the incompetence of our athletic department (yes, even then) was that they pretty much refused to market him at all for the Heisman. Leinart at USC won it, maybe he would have, but Arrington should have had some publicty from his own school.
dmh65
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I think Vic Enwere's 3rd and 36 run should get honorable mention.
calumnus
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In my book Joe Igber deserves honorable mention too. Officially for his 1,300+ senior season in 2002, but really as recognition for getting me through the Holmoe years with his 4 years of continually making something out of nothing and then popping up from the pile and running back to the huddle.
MoragaBear
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Staff
calumnus said:

In my book Joe Igber deserves honorable mention too. Officially for his 1,300+ senior season in 2002, but really as recognition for getting me through the Holmoe years with his 4 years of continually making something out of nothing and then popping up from the pile and running back to the huddle.
Igber's best year was 2002 with 1,130 rushing yards. He was a very good receiver, too, with 304 yards and 3 more TDs but he only had 7 rushing TDs and a 4.7 ypc average. With that in mind, there would've been several guys ahead of him as candidates for honorable mention, starting with Lasco, who was mentioned in the story but only as one of the two RBs in the past decade to have rushed for 1,000+ yards. The point of the story wasn't to mention every 1k+ season, though, just 10 of the best.
Umunhum
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If I remember correctly, JJ Arrington was the first college football player to run for over 2,000 yards in a season and NOT win the Heisman Trophy.
calumnus
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Umunhum said:

If I remember correctly, JJ Arrington was the first college football player to run for over 2,000 yards in a season and NOT win the Heisman Trophy.


Certainly had to be the first not even nominated or in the Heisman discussion. I feel like Cal not promoting him more played a role in our BCS snub too. Rodgers' NCAA record setting consecutive completions (and against the #1 team on their field) could have been hyped more too.
okaydo
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Wow, Cals best season of the past 30 years is No. 4.
Cal8285
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It is all subjective, so there is no right or wrong, but I'd put Muncie 1975 above Arrington 2004. Three reasons, the first one the most important.

First, my personal eye test says, as good as Arrington's season was, Muncie's was better. There is a reason why Hank Stram said, well after Muncie's career was over, that Muncie was the most talented back ever, and it showed during the 1975 season. As good as Arrington was in 2004, it didn't make me think he's one of the most talented running backs ever, but Muncie in 1975 did. It is very sad that two players from the 1975 team with the talent for great NFL careers never got to really show it, Roth due to cancer and Muncie due to cocaine.

Second, and maybe least important, while Arrington didn't throw any passes in 2004, in 1975, Muncie was 3-3 with 2 TD's and 143 yards, including a Big Game TD pass. Yes, only three plays for the season, but still, they give Muncie some additional points that Arrington doesn't have when you look at all the stats.

Third, Muncie had a Big Game for the ages against a very good Stanford team that came into the Big Game tied for first in the conference with Cal and UCLA, the winner going to the Rose Bowl if only U$C could tie or beat fUCLA. Muncie had TD's rushing, receiving, and passing. A guy gets extra points when he has a truly great Big Game when the Big Game stakes were the highest.

Sadly, there was no U$C tie or win against fUCLA, so Muncie's career ended in that fabulous Big Game. I sure would have liked to see Griffin and Muncie go against each other in the Rose Bowl and show the country who really was best. The biggest negative for Muncie that season was his fumbles against UCLA at the Coliseum, without which the Bears may not have needed SC to tie or beat UCLA the day after Thanksgiving, but for me, it isn't enough to push Muncie behind Arrington.

The saddest thing to me about Arrington's 2004 season wasn't Arrington's fault, the Holiday Bowl. Arrington ran 25 times for 173 yards. The problem is that he should have run MORE. By the time the Bears got to the Holiday Bowl, all the Bears best receivers were injured, Makonnen was the only really decent one left, but Texas Tech wasn't going to stop the Bears running game. I know we had Aaron Rodgers, you hate not to really use such a great weapon, but we didn't really need to. We needed to mostly run the ball, and we win the game. In addition to Arrington's 25 for 173, Lynch ran only FIVE times (for 26 yards), while Rodgers had 42 pass attempts. The interception that skipped off the hands of true frosh Jordan, who didn't even get his redshirt pulled until too many receivers went down, was a killer in terms of putting Cal in a position too early where the Bears felt like they needed to pass, but they had plenty of time to just run the ball down the Red Raider's throats. The offensive line and Arrington (and Lynch) were too good and the receiving corps too depleted to do anything but run.

I can't really judge guys I never saw, like Jensen or Bottari, but to me, over the last 49 years, as great as Arrington was, Muncie's 1975 season was definitely the best.

calumnus
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Cal8285 said:

It is all subjective, so there is no right or wrong, but I'd put Muncie 1975 above Arrington 2004. Three reasons, the first one the most important.

First, my personal eye test says, as good as Arrington's season was, Muncie's was better. There is a reason why Hank Stram said, well after Muncie's career was over, that Muncie was the most talented back ever, and it showed during the 1975 season. As good as Arrington was in 2004, it didn't make me think he's one of the most talented running backs ever, but Muncie in 1975 did. It is very sad that two players from the 1975 team with the talent for great NFL careers never got to really show it, Roth due to cancer and Muncie due to cocaine.

Second, and maybe least important, while Arrington didn't throw any passes in 2004, in 1975, Muncie was 3-3 with 2 TD's and 143 yards, including a Big Game TD pass. Yes, only three plays for the season, but still, they give Muncie some additional points that Arrington doesn't have when you look at all the stats.

Third, Muncie had a Big Game for the ages against a very good Stanford team that came into the Big Game tied for first in the conference with Cal and UCLA, the winner going to the Rose Bowl if only U$C could tie or beat fUCLA. Muncie had TD's rushing, receiving, and passing. A guy gets extra points when he has a truly great Big Game when the Big Game stakes were the highest.

Sadly, there was no U$C tie or win against fUCLA, so Muncie's career ended in that fabulous Big Game. I sure would have liked to see Griffin and Muncie go against each other in the Rose Bowl and show the country who really was best. The biggest negative for Muncie that season was his fumbles against UCLA at the Coliseum, without which the Bears may not have needed SC to tie or beat UCLA the day after Thanksgiving, but for me, it isn't enough to push Muncie behind Arrington.

The saddest thing to me about Arrington's 2004 season wasn't Arrington's fault, the Holiday Bowl. Arrington ran 25 times for 173 yards. The problem is that he should have run MORE. By the time the Bears got to the Holiday Bowl, all the Bears best receivers were injured, Makonnen was the only really decent one left, but Texas Tech wasn't going to stop the Bears running game. I know we had Aaron Rodgers, you hate not to really use such a great weapon, but we didn't really need to. We needed to mostly run the ball, and we win the game. In addition to Arrington's 25 for 173, Lynch ran only FIVE times (for 26 yards), while Rodgers had 42 pass attempts. The interception that skipped off the hands of true frosh Jordan, who didn't even get his redshirt pulled until too many receivers went down, was a killer in terms of putting Cal in a position too early where the Bears felt like they needed to pass, but they had plenty of time to just run the ball down the Red Raider's throats. The offensive line and Arrington (and Lynch) were too good and the receiving corps too depleted to do anything but run.

I can't really judge guys I never saw, like Jensen or Bottari, but to me, over the last 49 years, as great as Arrington was, Muncie's 1975 season was definitely the best.




Our 2004 RB depth was insane.

At the time of all those WR injuries I really thought we should have gotten more of our RBs on the field as slot receivers. Marshawn in particular. That what USC did with Reggie Bush that year with Lendal White as their starting RB.

And thanks for bringing up subjectivity being a factor. That was why I said igber was deserving of honorable mention "in my book." Watching Igber get 5 yards out of nothing, and do it with such obvious joy, was just more fun to watch (as an individual performance) than Echemandu (as just one example) get slightly more more yards running straight ahead behind much better blocking.
DiabloWags
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JJ Arrington



"Cults don't end well. They really don't."
HearstMining
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This is where Bearister usually adds the image of Muncie's Sports Illustrated cover and I say he can never do it enough. Chuck was bigger than linebackers and faster than most DBs. Muncie 1 v 1 against a cornerback was just hilarious. I was at that 1975 Big Game and Muncie was great, but honestly, his performance in the USC game was the greatest Cal game I've ever seen. He was like a sneak preview of Eric Dickerson. But like the Greek epic heroes, he had his flaw and in his case, it was coke. I'm glad he recovered from it but sorry he died so young.
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